Every Christian’s Little Pentecost

“Baptized into Christ”

On May 23rd, 2020, something extraordinary happened that would change my life and the life of my family forever. On that day, at our house in Mayaguez, Puerto Rico, there was a “little Pentecost”. It was an amazing, astonishing, forever life-changing experience! There were no mighty rushing winds that day, surprisingly, as it did happen to be the middle of the Hurricane season. Nor was there any speaking in Spanish “as though it were my own native language,” as the baby’s doctor happened to speak English. But there was this most wonderful promise that our gracious Lord has attached to the Sacrament of Holy Baptism:

Repent and be baptized every one of you – the apostle Peter says in his Pentecost sermon – in the Name of Jesus Christ, for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the promise of the Holy Spirit. – Acts 2:38

Just before His ascension to the right hand of the Father, Jesus had promised His disciples that He would not leave them as orphans, but that He would send them the Spirit to comfort them, to help them, to guide them into all truth. He had promised them that the Holy Spirit would take what was His and declare it to them. On the very first Pentecost, 50 days after Jesus had risen from the dead, conquering sin, death and the devil for us, our ascended Lord did just what He said He would.

There as the disciples huddled together in one place for fear of death and completely uncertain about what the future held, Jesus sent the promised Holy Spirit, and He came, and began His work of taking what Jesus had done and delivering it to the world. He came, and resting above the disciples like tongues, the Holy Spirit preached through the mouth of apostles. In every language known to the inhabited world He delivered to all those present the death and resurrection of Jesus, repentance and forgiveness of sins in His Name.

On the very first Pentecost, Jesus kept His promise, the Holy Spirit came and He began His work. Peter stood up that day and preached with boldness the mighty works and wonders that God had done through Jesus – how God had delivered him up to be crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men, but then raised him up in victory over death. “Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.

When the multitude of men from all over the world had heard this,

they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “what shall we do? And Peter said to them, repent and be baptized every one of you for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.

and here is what is so astounding, and amazing, and life-changing for us today, two thousand years later, this good news that the promise of the Holy Spirit is also for you. Peter continues,

For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to Himself.Acts 2:29-41

The Sacrament of Holy Baptism is the fulfillment of this promise of Pentecost for you! The same promised Holy Spirit that was poured out on the disciples on that first Day of Pentecost is also promised to be poured out on every Christian in the waters of Baptism. He saved us – the Holy Spirit preaches through the apostle Paul – not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to His own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ, our Savior.Titus 3:5-6

When a sinner is washed with the water and the Word in Holy Baptism, the Holy Spirit is poured out on them richly through Jesus Christ. Whether it’s the baptism of a 4-day old baby in a house on an island, or of a 15 year old young man at Church in the desert, every single Baptism into Christ for the forgiveness of sins is a “little Pentecost”! Jesus keeps His promise, the Holy Spirit comes, and He begins His work of delivering all the gifts Jesus won on the cross to you.

My son Joseph’s little Pentecost took place at our house in Puerto Rico, but this was not the original plan. Joseph was born one week before our congregation, in Mayaguez was hoping to return to in-person church after months of meeting online due to the pandemic. We were hopeful and excited about the possibility of returning to in person worship with the celebration of a Baptism. It was going to be a wonderful thing that these two things would coincide.

Now I have to tell you something about our Puerto Rican brothers and sisters: they like to party! And so we were looking forward to una fiesta. An all out celebration, the first time in a long time, receiving our Lord’s Body and Blood, as well as the first time our dear brothers and sisters there would meet and welcome our little Joey to the family. But after talking to our doctor that day, we learned that Joseph needed to be taken to the NICU. It was the middle of the pandemic and didn’t know how serious things were with his health, and so we decided to have an emergency Baptism there at our house before going to the hospital.

If you look at the pictures, or the one picture we have of this celebration, you’ll only see my family standing at our kitchen table with a laptop and bowl of water. There really were no mighty rushing winds, no speaking in tongues, no flames, no powerful preaching, no exciting fiesta, but there was a promise that the Holy Spirit would come. And as we huddled together in fear not knowing what the future held, Jesus sent His Spirit to my son. And that promise was fulfilled, as Joseph was washed with the Word, and received the Holy Spirit on that day, made it the most amazing, astonishing, life-changing day for us. Alex, that day for you is today. I hope you never forget it.

Dear Christian, I hope you’ll never ever forget your little Pentecost either. On that day, the day you were baptized in the Name of Jesus for the forgiveness of your sins, the Holy Spirit came to you, and He began His good work of taking what belongs to Jesus and declaring it to you. On that day Jesus’ innocence became your innocence. His righteousness and blessedness, your righteousness and blessedness. The Holy Spirit sanctified you, He made you Holy by taking Jesus’ righteousness, and applying it to your account. He called you who were far off. He gathered into His holy Christian Church, where he daily and richly forgives you all of your sins, where He will keep you in the one true faith unto life everlasting. In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

A Bold Confession

Photo Credit: thejaggedword.com

On this day in the year 1530, the Lutheran princes of the Holy Roman Empire risked everything in order to testify to the Gospel of Jesus Christ before the Emperor at Augsburg. When the Emperor demanded these men to outlaw the preaching of Lutheran sermons in their lands, to make it illegal to read the Bible in German, and to attend the Corpus Christi festival, Prince George Margrave of Brandenburg stepped forward and said, “we will not, my lord.” “You will!” – the Emperor fires back – “or you will suffer my sword.” 

A Sure and Certain Future

The recent string of earthquakes is just one more reason for Puerto Ricans to pack their bags. Photo: Johanna Heidorn

A couple of days ago Pastors Neuendorf, Maita, and I went to visit a member of la Iglesia Luterana Fuente de Vida in Ponce. Like so many others on the south side of the island, he had been sleeping outside of his home in a cardboard box since the earthquakes began a couple of weeks ago.

Sleeping in Heavenly Peace

Some members of la Iglesia Luterana Fuente de Vida in Ponce sharing the peace that passes all understanding with the refugees at the biggest camp in Ponce. Photo: LCMS Disaster Response

Just a couple of weeks ago we were singing Silent Night as part of our Christmas celebration. But ever since the Three Kings Day Earthquake, the idea of sleeping in peace in Puerto Rico has become nothing but a daydream.

Ever since that first major quake, the southwest part of Puerto Rico hasn’t really stop shaking, with literally 100s of aftershocks and subsequent earthquakes, some even bigger than the first. Instead of being a source of great joy, the arrival of “the Three Kings” this year has meant nothing but nights of insomnia, worry, fear and anxiety for many, but especially for the thousands of Puerto Ricans who are sleeping in emergency shelters, in their cars, or the driveways of their homes.

Dead Man Standing

The body of Angel Pantoja Medina, “the dead man standing,” being mourned in his mother’s home. Photo: mbcnews.com

There’s a rising trend in Puerto Rico: funeral homes posing the dead like they’re still alive.  In these “outside of the box” funerals, instead of having the deceased lying in a coffin, families are having their loved ones embalmed and then posed to depict scenes from their life. It all started with the now famous case of the “dead man standing” (el muerto para’o), a young man who was mourned by his relatives not laying down in a coffin, but propped upright in his mother’s home, wearing his favorite shirt, sunglasses and cap.

How to Prepare for a Storm

Ready for “Boriquén”.

Yesterday my family celebrated one year of missionary service in Puerto Rico. After five years of service in Peru, and then four years of pastoral formation at Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, we considered ourselves relatively prepared for our work here. We were nervous and excited as we hopped on the plane with our one-way ticket to the Island of Enchantment, our ten military-grade duffle bags and our three little ones in tow, but we were ready to weather the storms together, by God’s grace.

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Free Indeed

Today Puerto Rico celebrates the abolition of slavery.  Slavery is a terrible, ugly thing no matter where you go. And here in Puerto Rico was no exception. The slaves were purchased as property and branded on the forehead with a hot iron to mark them as such. They were forced to convert to Catholicism. Forced to learn Spanish. Forced to work long, hard, hot days, doing back breaking work on the sugar cane plantations. 

Monument to the Abolition of Slavery in Ponce, Puerto Rico. Photo: encirclephotos.com
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Our True Father

Puerto Ricans speak a “sancochified” Spanish that reflects the rich cultural and ethnic mixture that makes up their identity (“sancocho” is a thick soup with a lot of yummy things mixed in). Photo: http://www.indicepr.com

It’s been a fun challenge adjusting to Puerto Rican Spanish. One thing that has taken some getting used to is being called “daddy” by a complete stranger. In many Spanish speaking countries, it’s not unusual to hear a wife calling her husband papi (“daddy”), or a husband calling his wife mami (“mommy”). But here in Puerto Rico, these terms of affection are not limited to your significant other. 

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